Hansens' say faith, values key to their success
By STEVE CAHALAN / Tribune business editor
Religious faith and key values are responsible for the John Hansen family's success in business, first with the Kwik Trip Inc. chain and now with Nesnah Ventures, LLC, John and Donna Hansen and their daughter, Amy Hansen-Strom, said Wednesday.
The Hansens kicked off Viterbo University's 2003-04 Brown Bag series of talks by owners of local family-run businesses.
John and Donna Hansen, who have five children, founded the Kwik Trip chain in 1965 with a store in Eau Claire, Wis. In July 2000, the Hansen family sold its interest in the La Crosse-based company to the Donald Zietlow family. The two families had jointly owned Kwik Trip since 1972.
Kwik Trip today has more than 300 stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
The day after the July 2000 sale of their interest in Kwik Trip, the Hansens formed Nesnah, a Holmen, Wis.-based company that today owns a chain of 30 Sterling Stores convenience stores in Ohio, the Venture Fuels wholesale fuel business, and a 50 percent interest in U.S. Energy Partners, which has a wheat gluten plant and ethanol plant, both in Russell, Kan.
Because Nesnah's core businesses have nearly 500 employees in Wisconsin, Kansas and Ohio, the company also established a human resources company, People Ventures. Hansen-Strom is president of that subsidiary.
"The very important dimension of faith is what really formed and shaped John and I," Donna Hansen told listeners Wednesday.
Her husband, who was raised on a dairy farm near Bangor, Wis., was a salesman who traveled "far and wide" for a large company early in their marriage, she said. Because he was away from home so much, she said, "We began praying for other opportunities and for the courage to step away from the corporate world.
"It was the Kwik Trip adventure that followed," Donna Hansen said. "And it was quite an adventure for us. And we were most grateful," because it allowed her husband to spend much more time with his family.
John Hansen said he was surprised when in 2000, Zietlow approached Hansen family members in a board meeting and asked to buy out their interest in Kwik Trip. "It was kind of a shock to us, because we had thought we would do this forever," Hansen said.
"But we went back and forth and prayed a lot in those days, trying to figure out what was best," Hansen said. "In the end, we let it go because we didn't really want to affect all of our co-workers. We had 5,000 employees at that point." He was president and chief executive officer at the time.
In a press release Kwik Trip issued at the time, the company said the transaction permitted each family to achieve its estate-planning goals among its three generations, and allowed both families to pursue their own interests. By that time, the company had more than 290 convenience stores.
The Hansens' children decided the family should start a new business, and continue working together. That led to the creation of Nesnah — which is "Hansen" spelled backwards.
"The mission, vision and values (of Nesnah) really are modeled on the basic Christian tenet to treat others the way you'd like to be treated, to follow the Golden Rule," Hansen-Strom said. She also said Nesnah's values include honesty and integrity, respect,excellence, humility in all things, innovation and hard work.
The Hansens, devout Catholics, still won't sell adult magazines in their convenience stores.
John Hansen recalled a conversation years ago with two people who said his stores could earn $2 million a year by selling such magazines. "And I said ‘You know, on my Judgment Day, $2 million isn't going to make a difference. I'm not going to carry it.' "
He estimated half of the nation's convenience stores don't carry such magazines "because a few of us took a stand and made a difference."
Steve Cahalan can be reached at (608) 791-8229 or scahalan@lacrossetribune.
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